[With layoffs hitting the allegedly 'recession-proof' game industry, Gamasutra talks to employees from Pandemic, Eidos, and Ensemble to find out the human story behind the corporate announcements.]
For an industry that's supposedly "recession-proof," there seem to be an awful lot of video game developers feeling the same pain as others laid off in so-called "more vulnerable" industries. Perhaps even more pain, if that's possible, because the games sector is supposed to be doing just fine, thank you.
Take artist R.C. Montesquieu. For him, being handed his walking papers was like crossing the street and getting hit by a Mack truck. He just never saw it coming.
Montesquieu had worked at LA-based Pandemic Studios for almost six years and was feeling "pretty secure" in his job as a concept artist. "I really didn't worry about layoffs," he recalls. "It wasn't a company prone to that sort of thing."
Then, the day before Halloween, he and his team members at the Electronic Arts-owned studio were told that almost 25 percent of the staff of 250 would be laid off.
Indeed, while no one has compiled the figures, headlines testify to the cutbacks by some of the industry's biggest players -- THQ making significant staff cuts and closing studios, LucasArts having layoffs, troubled Midway announcing a 25 percent headcount reduction.
Even the mighty Electronic Arts has been cutting back its global workforce by about 10 percent (or approximately 1,000 employees) and consolidating or closing at least nine studios and publishing locations.
How is this possible given the fact that the NPD Group recently described the pace of the industry's sales growth as "blistering"? Year-to-date total industry figures were up a whopping 22 percent to $16.04 billion, the research firm said in November.
And a recent report by Gamasutra sister publication Game Developer Research found that the current economic downturn had yet to really affect jobs in the games industry at that time. "While the effects of the current financial crisis and credit crunch could manifest itself in the longer-term," it observes, "there are no current signs of it in the aggregate numbers of people employed in game-related sectors."
No wonder few developers expect to be handed a pink slip.
Montesquieu and the Pandemic team had wrapped up The Lord of the Rings: Conquest for a mid-January release when word came from management that it "would be consolidating some studios, cutting some projects, basically shrinking the size of the company," he recalls. "They blamed the economic climate."
Had Montesquieu any early inkling? He remembers having heard smatterings of talk from his peers about layoffs elsewhere. "Just like everyone else, I have friends throughout the industry and had heard rumors about companies where things didn't seem to be going well."
"But I'd been at Pandemic for almost six years and didn't feel vulnerable. Still, there were these hints. Everyone was excited about a corporate meeting that kept getting scheduled and then postponed, and rumors started swirling that that wasn't a good sign. I remember saying something about it and people told me I was just being paranoid. Guess I wasn't."
Montesquieu admits he probably should have started looking around. "I don't want to sound like I was unprepared, but to tell the truth, I can't say I started looking for work," he says. "I mean, I really liked the company and everyone I worked with, and I didn't want to believe that anything bad was going to happen."
But when his office phone rang and he was summoned to an unplanned meeting, he began to suspect something was up.
"There were a lot of people in the room," he
recalls, "and we were all told at the same time that we were being laid
off. When it was over and we returned to our desks, practically everyone was
gone. We were told we could come back and collect our things that Saturday."
Montesquieu is thankful he's got a severance package that will keep him going for a while. "My first reaction was that this would be a good time to kick back and relax, maybe work on a project I had never had time for," he confides. "But then your responsibilities kick in. I recently got married and didn't feel right sitting home. So I started contacting companies to see what jobs are available."
Then reality set in. "You realize that EA owns a lot of the studios and they're still laying people off," he says. "Suddenly, your options are fewer. I even tried calling some of the contacts EA handed us when we left, but when I started getting turndowns, it hit me -- this is going to be more difficult than I thought."